Once the update arrives, Tesla vehicles will be able to drive themselves in a city the way they can perform highway cruising now, the company said. That means interpreting stop signs and traffic lights, making sharp turns, and navigating stop-and-go urban traffic and other obstacles -- a far more difficult task than navigating long, relatively straight stretches of highways. Although Tesla's website has promised features as soon as this year including the ability to recognize and react to traffic lights and stop signs, and what it calls "Automatic driving on city streets," the suite would still require a human driver behind the wheel. As soon as next year, Tesla has said, the cars will be able to operate reliably on their own, even allowing the driver to fall asleep. This tiered approach is different from companies such as Waymo, whose sole aim is to launch autonomous vehicles that do not need a driver behind the wheel.
Tesla unleashed the latest twist in driverless car technology last week, raising more questions about whether autonomous vehicles are outracing public officials and safety regulators. The Palo Alto electric car company on Sept. 26 beamed a software feature called Smart Summon to Tesla owners who prepaid for it. Using a smartphone, a person can now command a Tesla to turn itself on, back out of its parking space and drive to the smartphone holder's location -- say, at the curb in front of a Costco store. The car relies on onboard sensors and computers to help it move forward, back up, steer, accelerate and decelerate on its own, braking if it detects people, other vehicles or stationary objects in its path. The "driver" must keep a finger or thumb on the smartphone screen or the car will stop.
Tesla, under pressure to show it can generate profits on its main business of making electric cars, on Monday trumpeted a custom-designed computer chip to let its vehicles drive themselves. Even with the new chip -- which comes with all new vehicles and can be installed in older ones -- Teslas still aren't yet fully capable of driving without human intervention. They now have "all hardware necessary," said Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive officer. "All you have to do is improve the software." The software will be updated over the air to allow full self-driving by the end of the year, he said.
Carmakers and tech companies are in a race to put autonomous vehicles on the road, and it's time for regulators to tap the brakes. This month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that it is investigating two crashes involving Tesla vehicles allegedly operating on autopilot. Tesla's autopilot feature is a semi-autonomous system that uses cameras, radar and sensors to steer the car, change lanes, adjust speed and even find a parking space and parallel park. It's not supposed to turn a Tesla sedan into a self-driving car, but there's ample evidence on YouTube of people driving with their hands off the steering wheel, playing games and even climbing into the back seat while their car is hurtling down a freeway. You and your daughter are riding in a driverless car along Pacific Coast Highway.
Elon Musk is no stranger to bold predictions, and on Tuesday, he lobbed another one at self-driving tech doubters: The Tesla CEO said the electric carmaker's full self-driving feature will be completed by the end of 2019. And by the end of 2020, he added, it will be so capable, you'll be able to snooze in the driver seat while it takes you from your parking lot to wherever you're going. "I think we will be'feature complete' on full self-driving this year, meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year," Musk said during a podcast interview with the money management firm ARK Invest, which is a Tesla investor. "I am certain of that. That is not a question mark."